All this week, Macworld editors have picked their favorite iPhone apps of the past year. And while these apps cover a diverse array of categories—entertainment, creativity, productivity, and so on—they share one common trait: All of them can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store.
Well, before the App Store arrived, bringing Apple-approved applications along with it, there was jailbreaking—the process of busting open the iPhone and iPod touch to allow them to run third-party applications that were definitely not approved by Apple.
While the App Store has enjoyed a great deal of popularity since its July debut, the jailbreaking community lives on and offers some very useful applications that you likely will never see from the App Store. Here are some of our favorites:
Cydia: Jay Freeman’s installer application, Cydia, is included when you jailbreak your phone with QuickPwn or the PwnageTool. It’s with Cydia that you download third-party applications to your iPhone or first-generation iPod touch. (Included are applications for regular folks as well as developers.
Cycorder A free application authored by Freeman, Cycorder lets you shoot videos with your iPhone’s camera at frame rates from 6 to 15 frames per second. The resulting movies are encoded with MJPEG compression and are playable on your Mac.
Winterboard: Another Freeman creation, integrated into Cydia, the free Winterboard lets you skin the iPhone and iPod touch’s interface with themes also available via Cydia.
Podcaster: This app by Alex Sokirynsky lets you stream and download podcasts directly to your iPhone or iPod touch—no iTunes required. Apple barred the controversial Podcaster from the App Store for allegedly “duplicating” functionality of the iPhone. Not to be denied, Sokirynsky began distributing it through Cydia and asking $5 per copy for his trouble. It’s a polished and extremely useful application.
SnaptureIf you’ve ever wished that your iPhone’s camera behaved more like a real digital camera and let you shoot in black-and-white and featured digital zoom, timer functions, and burst mode, Snaptured.com’s free Snapture is the answer to that wish.
Netatalk: Netatalk is the free iPhone/iPod touch version of the open-source implementation of the AppleTalk networking protocol. With it installed on your iPhone or iPod touch, you can gain access to the device’s file system from your computer, just as you can with any other networked device. Having this kind of access is extremely helpful for moving files on and off the iPhone or iPod touch.
OpenSSH: The free OpenSSH, integrated into Cydia, provides another way into your jailbroken iPhone or iPod touch. With it installed, you can use the Secure File Transfer Protocol to get into the guts of your device.
Many of the applications that were available for jailbroken iPhones and iPod touches have disappeared and moved to the App Store now that it’s open. But Cydia’s catalog grows by the day—customization options, games, media readers, and utilities can be found.
Although jailbreaking your iPhone or iPod touch won’t hurt it (you can always restore it to its original condition with iTunes), doing so will void your warranty. In addition, while jailbreaking won’t hurt your device now, there’s no guarantee that changes made to the iPhone and iPod touch’s software in the future won’t cause problems with a jailbroken device.
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Chris has covered technology and media since the latter days of the Reagan Administration. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, he's a professional musician in the San Francisco Bay Area.